By Maritess Garcia Reyes
Jan 27, 2022

With breathtaking surroundings and her spontaneous, active lifestyle in mind, Carol Karthe creates a sanctuary that pays homage to nature and all things she loves

Designer, biker and sailor Carol Karthe has been living an active life for as long as she can remember. “I started riding about 30 years ago. My long [standing] passions are sailing, motorbiking and playing polo,” Karthe says in an interview a few days before she flew to Argentina for a polo camp. The multi-hyphenate is one of the founders of The Litas Manila, a group of moto-obsessed women in the Philippines that is part of a global all-female motorcycle charter. She rides a horse twice a week and loves biking around, near or far. She randomly hops on a boat to sail whenever she feels like it. “I go to the beach…spur of the moment…no plans. I sleep on the boat or travel to other islands for two weeks. [I have] no set schedule. I do long motorbike rides in other countries,” she describes. With all these things on her plate, it is not hard to imagine why she found solace in her new home in the south.

The high ceiling allows air to naturally circulate around the living room and the kitchen

“The estate [where the house is located] is like a nature sanctuary. It’s just forests, fairways, lakes and rivers streams. In the afternoon, I would bring my golf cart or take a walk with my three dogs. I can just pick a spot somewhere up on a little hill, under the tree,” says Karthe when asked what moved her to build a home amidst the picturesque Sta Elena Golf and Country Estates in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Why not? It is away from the chaotic metropolis, halfway to the countryside and is a perfect place to retire after a long day outdoors. “[From the house] I ride my motorbike and in 20 minutes I am already in Silang, in my friend’s farm, riding horses,” she continues. The estate is a protected area that serves as a habitat for 102 bird species, has a sprawling golf course and rare trees that cascade into the forest. “It’s very accessible yet it’s secluded. I have the best of both worlds,” she enthuses.

Carol Karthe with her fur babies Frida, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Otto, a Weimaraner

The hands-on homeowner built her home without disturbing the natural ecosystem around it. Inspired by a birdhouse, the structure was designed to maximise the immediate and distant views as well as take advantage of natural cross ventilation. “I’m a sailor and I know the [movements] of the wind,” Karthe says. Upon opening the massive pivot door at the main entrance, one is greeted by an airy living room with high ceiling, tall glass windows that let natural light in and unhampered vistas of trees and the golf course. This space hosts her collection of some iconic mid-century pieces.

The living room seems to flow fluidly into the lanai and the forest and fairways beyond; the breeze circulates freely inside the home. The three huge glass windows that line up the upper part of the wall look as if they were from a series of paintings. Concealed in an innovative, special wall, a Kenneth and Mock glass window virtually divides the space without making it look and feel constricted. The glass window beautifully frames the views and, when opened during the day, leads to the capacious lanai. “Space is expensive, so for me, space is luxury. Why put a [concrete] wall [to divide the space]? I want high ceiling. I want to see the trees. I want to feel like I’m part of the big picture. [And that] I’m not boxed [in],” Karthe explains.

The owner safekeeps her hundreds of vinos in the wine cellar by the basement

To the right of the living room is a hidden door that leads to the master bedroom. Complementing the rich narra floor are walls the ceiling painted in moss green, a colour that the owner picked to blend harmoniously with the verdant views peeking through the picture windows. “Eighty per cent of the wood I used [in this home] are repurposed or reclaimed from old houses. I’m a big supporter of sustainability,” she says. The owner opted not to have a veranda for she can just easily slide open the windows and let natural airflow into the room when she desires. Adjacent to the master bedroom is Karthe’s favourite spot in the home—the master bathroom. Spacious and open, it has so much room to move around and relax—a real sanctuary for the extrovert lady of the house. A striking chandelier hangs above the freestanding tub; across is the open shower area that looks out to a scenic foliage.

To the left of the main entrance is an open kitchen, where Karthe and friends would gather for some freshly made pasta, okonomiyaki or whatever they feel like eating.

On to the lanai, a striking archival print titled Confabulation (2017) from Wawi Navarozza’s Medusa series easily catches the eye. “I collect photographs by Filipino photographers. I think collecting photographs as art in the Philippines is not so common because prints are sensitive and hard to maintain,” Karthe says. Besides Navarozza’s, among the photographs in her collection are the works of Xyza Cruz Bacani, Regine David and Francisco “Paco” Guerrero. As a photographer herself, she knows that “using German paper for print, good framing and avoiding sunlight” are essential to maintaining these collectables. The lanai is a perfect place to lounge in the afternoon or during happy hour. In one corner is a modern hanging fireplace, a soothing spot where Karthe would enjoy cocktails and feel the breeze as if camping and getting lost in another world.  “When I am at the dining or lanai, I am within the same height as the middle of the trees,” she says.

The lanai looks out to a sprawling golf course

In the lanai, Wawi Navarroza’s 2017 archival pigment print titled “Confabulation” from the Medusa series takes centre stage

A pair of Wassily chairs by Marcel Breuer for Knoll compk,complements the patterns on the carpet by Iñigo Elizalde

A few steps down from the lanai is the black-striped pool tucked in a lush garden. “[I chose this colour because] it doesn’t get too cold since black absorbs heat, and the water looks crystal-clear,” explains Karthe. She loves to throw in some fun elements and vibrant accents. A nice German-made outdoor shower is featured around the corner.

Since the lot is naturally downhill, it gave room for a basement without the need to dig. Like a playground for Karthe, the basement is where the wine cellar, a workshop, the library and garage are located. The highlight of the basement is the six-seater sauna made of pine wood that was flown in from Finland. From this spot, one can enjoy a panoramic view of the expansive golf course. An outdoor barbecue area under the huge, decades-old trees is another favourite place for entertaining.

“There is a very special nature and building symbiosis. They perfectly fit together as if they belong to each other. It would be so nice if all of us can build our habitats with this mindset. [If we] try to fit in nature and not change or disturb it, it will give back”
– Carol Karthe –

The black and white pool is a perfect spot for an afternoon dip

“My friends invite themselves over,” she chuckles, and so on top of the master bedroom are two guest rooms that can accommodate those who would like to sleepover.

Everything in the home radiates Karthe’s personality. “I’m quite the minimalist. I’m a visual person so [when it comes to items I put in my home] it must have a balance of beauty and function. I mostly design furniture than buy off the rack because I want rare pieces,” she reveals, adding that as an advocate of sustainability, her non-negotiables include solar panels to encourage practical energy usage and conservation.

The guest room features a harmonious mix of textures, patterns and warm colours

In the master bedroom, a piece from a Slovenian lady photographer based in Singapore hangs above the headboard

Like a birdhouse from where it took inspiration, the façade of the home is canopied by towering trees that were originally grown in the area even before the house was built. “We were not allowed to put fences, but we were encouraged to plant and grow our gardens. I added plants like elephant ears, which I’ve seen around the area, so I didn’t need to introduce other species. The plants became my fence,” Karthe says. “There is a very special nature and building symbiosis. They perfectly fit together as if they belong to each other. It would be so nice if all of us can build our habitats with this mindset. [If we] try to fit in nature and not change or disturb it, it will give back.”

The open-layout bathroom is Karthe’s favourite spot

In the end, Karthe succeeded in designing a home with such a strong connection to its natural settings and the abundance of flora and fauna around it. “I would never want it to be in any other place than here,” she says, happy and contented with the shelter she built from the ground up.

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